Monday, September 9, 2013

Debate Tip #3: Wear Teflon Underwear

A person’s wisdom yields patience;
    it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. NIV Proverbs 19:11

It's going to happen.  Some of your opponents will attack you personally, ad hominem style, or even just basic name calling. In one debate I had recently, it seemed like the guy on the other end had a whole list of pejorative terms that he was working into the argument, one by one, just to get a reaction.

Whatever you do, don't react in kind.  Just let that garbage talk slide right off you, like you've got on Teflon tightie whities.

I've messed up a number of debates this way.  My opponent would fire a shot, and I instinctively thought of further belittling counter, and shot right back.  And it felt gooood!  And then he fired another shot with his next counter, so I did the same.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  The problem was that the debate was unproductive.  By the end, I could tell I had done little more that stroke my own ego, while having him think much less of me... not that he had admired me before!

I've come to realize that I need to stay focused on the goal.  The goal is not to "win" in the theological equivalent to an "yo momma" insult contest.  The goal is to change minds.  Having your opponent think that you are a jerk is probably just reinforcing their same misunderstanding that they've already had about those without faith.

So when your opponent uses that kind of language, just ignore it.  Just let it go.  You'll actually feel better about it in the long run, and you may just have influence someone by changing their perception about atheists, if not about the debate topic.


  1. Good advice and very fun pic!
    Another technique I may use is to trump their insult.
    If they say, "Don't be foolish....."
    I may say something like, "but I am a fool and very uneducated on these issues, but ..."
    That method can be useful too -- especially if you are sincere.
    And when it comes to such confessions, I can be most sincere!!

  2. Thanks Sabio. I like that insult-defusing approach. I've never used it myself, but I may just try to do so next time around.

  3. Agreed. I try to avoid such name calling. I'll either move past it and continue arguing like it wasn't said at all, or I'll just disengage.

  4. Sounds good Hausdorff. Of course, sometimes it's difficult to know when to keep going or when to disengage. :-)

  5. But then you end up with wet feet.


  6. Ha! Indeed Zoe. I guess we'll need to add some golashes to the debate outfit. :-) Wouldn't that be pretty!

  7. I disengage with one warning. I don't fire back (anymore) but I won't still be disrespected either. If someone gets personal, I let them know that's not how to debate and continue, if it happens again I'm gone.

    I make an exception for debates of God-given morality. The other person is basically saying that you are a bad person for using an inferior moral code, which I don't mind since it is kind of unavoidable and relevant to the debate.

  8. Urg, those morality debates, Grundy... I don't know why it's so hard to get them to realize what they already know! :-) Anyway, I can understand an exception there.